comscore ‘They were in the prime of their life, full of joy and hope only to be taken from us in an instant.’ | Honolulu Star-Advertiser
Hawaii News

‘They were in the prime of their life, full of joy and hope only to be taken from us in an instant.’

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Above, family members embraced in front of a photograph of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, of Aumsville, Ore.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Marines marched past portraits of the 12 crew members.

  • CRAIG T. KOJIMA / CKOJIMA@STARADVERTISER.COM

    Marines and other armed forces members paid their respects at 12 crosses, each adorned with boots, a rifle, a flight helmet and vest, and name tags of the 12 Marines killed when their two helicopters crashed off the North Shore.

There were tearful tributes as the tight-knit Kaneohe Bay military community honored 12 fallen Marines who lost their lives when two military helicopters on a training mission went down in high seas off Oahu’s North Shore last week.

The men were described as selfless leaders, talented mechanics and inspirational Marines during a memorial service held Friday morning at Marine Corps Base Hawaii in Kaneohe — home to the fallen crew from two CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters that may have collided on a routine mission some time after 11:30 p.m. Jan. 14.

It was Hawaii’s worst deadly noncombat military training exercise accident. In Kahuku 14 years ago, six 25th Infantry Division soldiers from Schofield Barracks were killed and 11 others injured when two Army Black Hawk UH-60 helicopters collided at night, also during a routine training mission.

“Communities from coast to coast are mourning these Marines, and our nation is forever grateful for their patriotism, service and sacrifice,” President Barack Obama said in a statement Friday. “Our thoughts and prayers are with their families and loved ones at this difficult hour.”

The 90-minute memorial service was conducted adjacent to helicopter hangar 102, where the fatal mission began.

For one final time, there was a roll call for the crew members of Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 463, Marine Aircraft Group 24, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing.

Two of the 12 gray CH-53E Super Stallion helicopters belonging to Squadron 463 were flanked by 12 crosses, each with a rifle, name tag and the unit’s shoulder patch. The flags of 50 states fluttered in morning tradewinds behind the white crosses, with Kaneohe Bay and the Koolau mountain range providing a dramatic backdrop.

In front of the two Super Stallions were larger-than-life color portraits of the six Pegasus 31 crew members:

>> Capt. Kevin T. Roche, 30, a pilot, from St. Louis. Roche’s immediate family members were preparing to travel to Hawaii when the search was suspended.

>> Capt. Brian T. Kennedy, 31, a pilot, from Philadelphia. “This (Pennsylvania) is where he grew up and went to high school, but since he graduated from the Naval Academy, he’s been on assignment,” said his father, William Kennedy, of Malvern, Pa.

>> Sgt. Jeffrey A. Sempler, 22, crew chief, from Woodruff, S.C., enjoyed reading and driving Ford Mustangs, his grandfather Ralph Beauvier said. “I wish I could tell the whole world what a great kid he was,” Beauvier said. “I am very proud of him.”

>> Cpl. Thomas J. Jardas, 22, crew chief, from Fort Myers, Fla., was the younger brother of the reigning Miss District of Columbia, Haely Jardas, who competed in last year’s Miss America pageant. The Miss D.C. Organization said in a statement that its thoughts and prayers are with Haely Jardas and her family. Haely Jardas flew home to Florida last Saturday to be with her family, Miss D.C. Executive Director Tricia Lloyd said.

>> Cpl. Matthew R. Drown, 23, crew chief, from Spring, Texas. Drown’s former high school English teacher, Yvette Stuckey, remembered him as a shy freshman but said he came out of his shell, eventually participating in debate tournaments. Stuckey said Drown was “really excited to … serve his country” after he enlisted.

>> Lance Cpl. Ty L. Hart, 21, crew chief, from Aumsville, Ore., was described by family friend Christina Brown as upbeat and energetic. She said he was married and enjoyed nature, boating and wakeboarding. Hart’s former high school football coach and teacher, Alan Kirby, called him a quick learner on the gridiron.

And six Pegasus 32 crew members:

>> Maj. Shawn M. Campbell, 41, a pilot, from College Station, Texas. He and his wife, Kelli, have four children. Campbell’s mother, Donna McGrew, described him as a “great dad whose kids love him, and he’s a wonderful husband.”

>> Capt. Steven R. Torbert, 29, pilot, from Florence, Ala., grew up in Highland Baptist Church, and his relatives remain members there. A pastor said the church was praying for Torbert.

>> Sgt.William J. Turner, 25, crew chief, from Florala, Ala., was a good student and baseball player at Florala High School whom everyone knew by his middle name, Josh, said school counselor Joea McNeil. Gay Burleson, whose son grew up with Turner, said he married in April 2015. Some of Turner’s family from Alabama joined his wife in Hawaii to monitor progress of the search, Burleson said.

>> Sgt. Adam C. Schoeller, 25, crew chief, from Gardners, Pa., who relatives said married his wife, Samantha Wickel-Schoeller, on July 4. “We value all of the thoughts and prayers offered up on our behalf during this very difficult time,” said a statement released through a family friend.

>> Sgt. Dillon J. Semolina, 24, crew chief, from Chaska, Minn. Semolina’s uncle said his nephew wanted to be a nurse when he left the Marines.

“He was waiting to hear from a school he had applied to and was hoping to hear next week,” Ryan Bachand said. Semolina was an impressive young man, respectful and positive, Bachand said. He had been a good football player at Delano High School in Minnesota.

>> Cpl. Christopher J. Orlando, 23, crew chief, from Hingham, Mass. Before Orlando joined the Marines, he was a counselor at a surf camp in Hull, Mass., and a “camp legend,” the South Shore Surf Camp said in a Facebook post.

A Marine honor guard placed the fallen Marines’ aviator helmets, life vests and black boots on each of the crosses at the start of Friday’s ceremony.

Lt. Col. Eric Purcell, Squadron 463 commander, said the Marines were in the prime of their lives. But their loss was not “useless.”

“The sadness this loss brings to their family,” Purcell said, “is immeasurable. They were in the prime of their life, full of joy and hope only to be taken from us in an instant.”

Following the tragedy, he said he told his squadron: “Mission first. Marines and families always.”

“Understanding the mission that they were doing is going to be critical to coming to terms with their absence,” he said. “Although the tragedy of this mishap cannot be denied, it wasn’t senseless. It wasn’t pointless.”

“Every night CH-53 pilots, crew chiefs and aerial gunners man their aircraft, don their night vision goggles and take to the skies to ensure we are trained to do our mission — to provide assault transport, heavy equipment, combat troops and supplies under all weather conditions day or night.

“By preparing for war and training under the most difficult circumstances our military and the Marine Corps in particular creates an incredible deterrent to our nation’s foes. As our nation’s force in readiness, we — the Marines — must be ready for war when our nation is least ready for war.”

Besides family members the memorial service was attended by the leaders of Hawaii’s military and civilian communities. Fellow Marines provided personal reflections.

Gov. David Ige ordered the flags of the United States and Hawaii to be flown at half staff at all state buildings and agencies through Tuesday.

In issuing the proclamation, Ige said: “These 12 brave U.S. Marines paid the ultimate price in protecting our freedom of democracy. We mourn their loss and honor their sacrifice and commitment to serving our great state and nation, as our national and state symbols fly at half-staff in their memory. Never forgotten.”

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